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Misplaced trust

Church leaders drain at least $673,000 from accounts

The financial problems of church council members John Osborn and Mary Meyer motivated them to steal the church's endowment funds. Here's how the couple exploited their position of trust within the congregation to commit this devastating fraud.

On Dec. 8, 2014, Onondaga County Court Judge Joseph E. Fahey spoke out at the sentencing of John Osborn when he tried to weasel out of a predetermined guilty plea. "I have to tell you, Mr. Osborn, I was born at night, but it wasn't last night, okay. …" Fahey said. "And what it tells me more than anything else is something that I think I already knew from looking at this scam and from looking at your history, is that you're a conman and have been a conman for most of your adult life. You conned these poor people out here in the church. You conned other people in the past … and now you are attempting to con me and the court system. And it isn't going to happen this morning. Your day of reckoning has arrived. Upon your plea of guilty to grand larceny in the second degree, it is the sentence and judgment of the Court you be sentenced to a minimum of five years and maximum of 15 years." (See the sentencing court records.)

The church

The unnamed church is a small United Methodist congregation in upstate New York, which has served the community for 150 years and operates on an annual budget of less than $200,000. The members created — mainly through bequests in their estates — a series of endowments to fund a variety of needs within the church. Over the years, the endowment had grown to more than $600,000.

The players

Osborn, born in 1958, was a self-employed local businessman and financial advisor in Syracuse, New York. His wife, Mary Meyer, born in 1956, was a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and an attorney. Meyer became a CPA in 1980, and after graduating from Syracuse Law School in 2000, she was admitted to the bar. She was the chief financial officer of the Central New York Community Foundation — a charitable organization with assets of $133 million.

In early 2000, John Osborn and Mary Meyer joined the congregation. By 2008, Meyer had volunteered to become the church's treasurer. Osborn was the church's lay leader and sometimes delivered a Sunday sermon. When the church needed someone to manage its money, Osborn told the church leaders that he would "gladly" volunteer as the head of the finance committee. The church leadership was thankful to Meyer and Osborn because no one else had the expertise or desire to manage these duties. The congregation explicitly trusted Osborn and Meyer to responsibly handle the financial affairs of the church.

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